Ardica Technologies - The Gear Junkie Scoop

The Gear Junkie Scoop: Ardica Technologies
By STEPHEN REGENOLD

The Holy Grail of artificial heat in apparel is a concept that’s alluded popular adoption since the days of D-cell-powered “electric” socks built for icefisherman. Even the North Face, with its futuristic MET5 heated fleece, failed to bring warming fibers interlaced in fabric to the forefront when it unveiled its “Intelligent Garment Technology series” in 2001.

But, oh, what a few million dollars in DARPA government grants can do for a long-alluding concept. From the depths of the mechanical engineering department at Stanford University, headed up by one Professor Fritz Prinz, a small outfit, Ardica Technologies (www.ardica.com), has formed to provide heat and power to apparel via miniaturization and energy-density technologies developed off university brain trust and checks for $5million signed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

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Above: The flat lithium-ion battery pack weighs less than one pound but can provide heat for up to eight hours, according to Ardica.

Uncle Sam cares little about ice climbers. But at Ardica, which is now a private company in San Francisco with 15 employees, money allocated toward the development of electronically-enabled military apparel is having residual effect for outerwear makers like Mountain Hardwear.

“Some people will pay anything to be warm,” said Sandra Rossi, a product manager at Mountain Hardwear who’s working to unveil four “Ardica Enabled” jackets for fall of 2009. “Additional heat without additional layers and bulk is always good.”

But Rossi said what sealed the deal for her company was Ardica’s dual functionality of warmth and power: With its slim battery pack, an Ardica-powered jacket is touted to run heat up to 105 degrees while simultaneously charging all the iPhones and GPS devices a skier can stuff in his or her inside pocket.

The power-plug option distinguishes Ardica from past products like The North Face’s MET5 as well as current heated hoodies and shells from companies including Nomis Design and Rossignol, both of which unveiled battery-heated offerings in the past year. Ardica has a fuel cell in development, but its initial product for the ’09-‘10 ski season will be based on a flat rechargeable battery pack that weighs less than a pound. The battery pack is a lithium-ion configuration with seven interconnected cells arranged for optimal power efficiency, according to the company.

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From the lab: A battery pack with controller and interface cables.

Ardica claims constant heat for several hours can be milked from the battery, which will sit between the shoulder blades on Mountain Hardwear coats. (Red Wing Shoe Company Inc. and Sitka Inc. have Ardica-based products coming to market as well, according to an Ardica spokesperson.) The heating elements are flat and flexible, measuring about 4 × 4 inches and connected to the power source with wires embedded in fabric. Power plugs inside the coat will interface with most all popular consumer-electronics products.

First-generation Ardica jackets will position three heat sources around the body, two of them just below the rib cage on the left and right sides and another running between the shoulder blades and down the back. It is tested to bake at the aforementioned 105 degrees for three hours straight and up to eight hours on a lower setting, allowing cold-blooded climbers and other winter lovers to crank and customize heat at will.

“It’s set up to be heat on demand,” said Hap Klopp, an Ardica board member who is better known as the founder and former CEO of The North Face. “Turn it on while you’re sitting on the chairlift for heat, then flip it off before you ski downhill.”

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Zigzagging heater-coil wires will be embedded in a jacket’s inner fabric.

Klopp, a Stanford alumni, said a microprocessor inside the Ardica device further distinguishes the technology. “It is a smart technology that can be configured to respond to outside activity and send heat in regulated doses.”

Cost of an Ardica-enabled jacket will drive price tags up $35 to $50 from a similar shell, the company estimated. The Ardica power system, which must be purchased separately and then plugged into an Ardica-enabled piece of apparel, will go at $145.

As noted, a fuel cell is in Ardica’s future, perhaps as soon as 2010, and Klopp said the plug-and-play power packs will be environmentally benign, releasing water and borax as the result of an electricity-producing chemical reaction. Wire-free power and warmth regulation via Bluetooth to gloves and shoes equipped with Ardica heaters is another potential to-be-unveiled trick Klopp would divulge.

For this season, Ardica will clothe ski patrollers and search-and-rescue squads at Vail, Jackson Hole and other resorts in its coats for a winterlong test. More extreme, a company that makes apparel for industrial applications is outfitting workers in Siberia with the heat-seeping shells. Despite its investment and development grants, there’s no word yet from the U.S. Department of Defense on its planned application for the skin-simmering technology.

—Stephen Regenold writes the weekly Gear Junkie Scoop for Outsidemag.com and TheGearJunkie.com.

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